July 1st, 2010
01:37 PM ET
8 years ago

Obama seeks middle ground on immigration reform

President Obama delivered a speech on immigration reform Thursday at American University in Washington.

President Obama delivered a speech on immigration reform Thursday at American University in Washington.

Washington (CNN) - President Barack Obama renewed his push for comprehensive immigration reform Thursday, calling for bipartisan cooperation on an issue that has repeatedly proven to be a major cause of deep social and political division.

The president tried to find what has often proven to be an elusive middle ground on the subject, highlighting the importance of immigrants to American history and progress while also acknowledging the fear and frustration many people now feel with a system that seems "fundamentally broken."

Read more on the belief blog: The White House invited top evangelical pastors to Obama’s speech.

He asserted that the majority of Americans are ready to embrace reform legislation that would help resolve the status of an estimated 11 million illegal immigrants.

"I believe we can put politics aside and finally have an immigration system that's accountable," Obama told an audience at Washington's American University. "I believe we can appeal not to people's fears, but to their hopes, to their highest ideals. Because that's who we are as Americans."

The president targeted Arizona's controversial new immigration law, which requires immigrants to carry their alien registration documents at all times and requires police to question people if there's reason to suspect they're in the United States illegally. It also targets businesses that hire illegal immigrant laborers or knowingly transport them.

The measure - currently under review by the Justice Department - has "fanned the flames of an already contentious debate," Obama said. It puts pressure on police officers to enforce rules that are "unenforceable" while making communities less safe - in part, by making people more reluctant to report crimes. It also has "the potential of violating the rights of innocent American citizens and legal residents, making them subject to possible stops or questioning because of what they look like or how they sound."

Rounding up everyone in the country who has entered illegally would be both "logistically impossible" and "tear at the fabric of the nation," the president warned.

But at the same time, Obama suggested, it would be wrong to offer blanket amnesty for people who came into the United States unlawfully.

To do so "would suggest to those thinking about coming here illegally that there will be no repercussions for such a decision. And this could lead to a surge in more illegal immigration. ... It would also ignore the millions of people around the world who are waiting in line to come here legally."

Ultimately, he said, "our nation, like all nations, has the right and obligation to control its borders and set laws for residency and citizenship. And no matter how decent they are, no matter their reasons, the 11 million who broke these laws should be held accountable."

Obama said those who entered the country illegally must admit they broke the law, register with the appropriate authorities, pay taxes, pay a fine, and learn English. They must "get right with the law before they can get in line and earn their citizenship."

The president urged Congress to tackle immigration reform legislation, but stressed that it would require support from both Democrats and Republicans.

"That is the political and mathematical reality," he said.

Obama's remarks, however, immediately received a cold reception from one top Senate Republican.

Obama and congressional Democrats "made a strategic decision to put

immigration on the back burner, and they now claim they can't even propose immigration legislation without a Republican," said Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas. "It's time for the president and congressional Democrats to stop the charade. Op-eds, outlines and speeches won't cut it anymore."

Despite Obama's call for bipartisan immigration reform, several senior Democratic sources said Thursday that they see virtually no chance of Congress taking up such a measure before November's midterm elections.

Though some hold out hope for potential movement during a lame-duck session of Congress after the election, most sources say the more realistic earliest target is next year. But even that, according to one source, may be "happy talk."

Still, these sources said that, politically, it was crucial for the president to give a speech like he did Thursday in order to put pressure on Republicans and, more importantly, to reassure angry Latino voters that Democrats haven't forgotten about the issue.

A CNN/Opinion Research Corporation national poll conducted in late May indicated that public support for beefing up security along the U.S. border with Mexico had grown significantly. According to the survey, nearly nine out of 10 Americans want to beef up U.S. law enforcement along the border with Mexico.

Eight in 10 questioned also supported a program that would allow illegal immigrants already in the United States to stay here and apply for legal residency if they had a job and paid back taxes. But only 38 percent say that program should be a higher priority than border security and other get-tough proposals. Six in 10 said border security was the higher priority.

Obama's speech followed a highly anticipated meeting this week in which the president discussed immigration reform with grass-roots reform advocates.

"From our meeting, it is clear that the president is committed to comprehensive immigration reform and understands that congressional action is needed urgently," said Ali Noorani, executive director of the National immigration Forum and a meeting attendee.

Other topics discussed at the meeting included concerns the grass-roots leaders had about reforms to current detention and deportation procedures, Noorani said.

- CNN's Dana Bash contributed to this report

Filed under: Immigration • issues • President Obama
soundoff (52 Responses)
  1. Angus McDugan

    No. Obama seeks conservatives to compromise.

    Secure the freeking boarder Mr. President!!!!!!!

    July 1, 2010 01:41 pm at 1:41 pm |
  2. Dan

    Middle ground? He is seeking to place blame not bipartisan support.

    July 1, 2010 01:44 pm at 1:44 pm |
  3. Four and The Door

    It's interesting to see this administration dance around the tough issues that might cost votes. For instance, how about the bipartisan commission he set up to deal with the huge debt he ran up? He could do the same thing here...rope in a few Republicans and call it an Immigration Reform Commission. They could recommend actions for reform and he could try and retain the Mexican-American vote by pointing at this commission. How elegant.

    July 1, 2010 01:44 pm at 1:44 pm |
  4. Russ H

    President Obama, Mrs. Pelosi, and Mr. Reid and the rest of you government officials. Quit crying and bickering like little kids, sit down and behave like adults and lets get his immigration, economy back to where it is suppose to be. Not your lobbyists and corporations that gave you all that money for your elections. Take care of the Americans first. If we take these political people and BP executives, the inspectors that took bribes and stick them in the leak, with their BS it should stop the leak

    July 1, 2010 01:46 pm at 1:46 pm |
  5. Barack.Hussein.Obama-America's-Benevolent-DICTATOR

    HEY OBOZO!! We don't need any stinking "REFORM"!! You lying scum have sold us that bill of goods before and then never secured the border and here we are, back with another 20 MILLION ILLEGALS!

    Americans want BORDER SECURITY and we want it NOW! Let's see how well you keep your promises to secure the border before we get suckered into granting another amnesty to these invaders of our country.

    We are sick and tired of all your "reforms" that are really entitlement plans that cost us hundreds of billions of our tax dollars.

    STOP sending money to Mexico and put it into border fences and guards instead. Mexico WANTS their people to flood this country! For God's sake GET A CLUE and do the job you were elected to do.

    July 1, 2010 01:47 pm at 1:47 pm |
  6. Pat in Omaha

    Thank you, Mr President!
    You are so intelligent and logical!
    I love to hear you explain things...a;ways educating us along the way!!

    July 1, 2010 01:47 pm at 1:47 pm |
  7. Karen

    CNN is a propaganda tool, and Dana Bash is a journolist mouthpiece for the DNC. Obama does not want a middle ground, he is demanding AMNESTY! Anyone who is violates our laws but is given a chance at citizenship is being rewarded with amnesty.

    Obama is worried about the left-wingers, not the 75% of the country who agrees with Arizona.

    Fire Dana Bash for lying to the American people.

    July 1, 2010 01:47 pm at 1:47 pm |
  8. Chas in Iowa

    I don't think the American public even wants to consider immigration reform until we do something about closing off the borders.
    Closing the borders has to be done first and not as part of some gallant comprehensive package,....CLOSE THE BORDERS.

    July 1, 2010 01:48 pm at 1:48 pm |
  9. Amelia Garcia

    But at the same time, Obama suggested, it would be wrong to offer blanket amnesty for people who came into the United States unlawfully...
    I agree with President Obama, especially for the illegal females whom once they are into this country they start having babies almost every 9 months from different man, the welfare system and the hospitals have been taken by this people.

    July 1, 2010 01:51 pm at 1:51 pm |
  10. La Piovra

    One time, I had neighbors who cut off their dog's tail, and then they named him Stubby. We now have minority party legislators like Cornyn, who block all legislative action whatever and then call the elected majority "do-nothing"

    July 1, 2010 01:54 pm at 1:54 pm |
  11. ken

    "Middle Ground" as described by "the One". What a laugh. The sad thing is that there are still a few in this country that buy into this thugs disasterous policies.

    July 1, 2010 01:58 pm at 1:58 pm |
  12. sifto

    i wish this guy would stop giving long-winded say-nothing speeches and get some work done–people have stopped listening to him talk to and about himself....

    July 1, 2010 01:58 pm at 1:58 pm |
  13. Fed Up

    One thing he said was that they can't get this done with bipartisanship. He owns the House and the Senate, as well as the Presidency. Why would he need any Republican votes???????? Is it because his own Democrats may not like the bill he is trying to push – AGAIN?????

    July 1, 2010 01:59 pm at 1:59 pm |
  14. Anonymous

    We are a family of 5 who moved from the Uk 9 years ago. So far we have spent 9 years and $42,000 on immigration and attorney fees and are still having problems getting our green card. The system is so flawed and needs to be changed. Everyone is talking about the illegals and how to help them...its the people who come here legally who need the help!!!
    We have worked and paid taxes for 9 years and we face more years of stress and financial hardship to pay for renewal of work permits, appeals attorney fees.etc. The immigration system must be changed to help legal people like us be able to stay and work and raise our families.

    July 1, 2010 02:00 pm at 2:00 pm |
  15. Steve (the real one)

    Amnesty IS NOT bipartisan! Neither is NOT punishing those who hire illegals!

    July 1, 2010 02:00 pm at 2:00 pm |
  16. JohninNM

    What a crock. Does he not understand the American people are well aware of the difference between immigration and illegal immigrants? And yet ,he tries to confuse/blend the two. Many of his statements are not based in facts such as we are a nation of immigrants (maybe true a century ago but not now), intentions of illegals, etc.

    Mr. President, listen to the people you have sworn an oath to – ABOVE your Democratic ideals. No amnesty. Secure our borders! Arrest and deport ALL illegals (including relatives of pliticians). Arrest employers of illegals. No more anchor babies. Enforce our federal laws. Make America safe for Americans. DO YOUR JOB.

    July 1, 2010 02:03 pm at 2:03 pm |
  17. Obozo's Recod Deficit + Higher Taxes

    I'll give you the status of 11 millions illegals (which is really probably 20 million), ILLEGAL.

    They broke the law, period, end of statement.

    If this BOZO wants to give them amnesty, then I won't pay taxes for the next 20 years, and OBOZO can give me amnesty for not paying taxes.

    I'm not paying for a bunch of ILLEGALSs.

    There is your middle ground OBOZO

    July 1, 2010 02:05 pm at 2:05 pm |
  18. rawk

    Comprehensive Immigration Reform = Amnesty.

    Just open the borders Obama and let every one in. Let em all in. Isn't that what you want ? Then they can all worship the Alter of Barack Obama and give him presidency for life.

    Come on all you CNN Libs. Repeat after me, "Open borders. Let em all in ! Open the borders, let em all in!" This will make American so much better right ? After all, we need to lower ourselves and NOT be the richest country anymore. We need to be a 3rd world country. We want wealth and power to be concentrated to those democrat leaders in Washington. That will make everything better. This way, 99% of all Americans can be poor and starving.

    July 1, 2010 02:06 pm at 2:06 pm |
  19. cliff

    Obama is now finding many who voted for him have a great difference of opinion.
    It is not that they are opposed to immigration...they are opposed to granting amnesty to illegals.

    Send all illegals home, regardless of their place of origin, and let them go through the process for immigration.

    The present illegal system is becoming much too divisive across America.

    July 1, 2010 02:07 pm at 2:07 pm |
  20. Ray E. (Georgia)

    Someone can correct me if I'm wrong but what Obama said with the exception of paying Back Taxes and a Penalty of which a new immigrant would not be subject to, is what is in the Law now. So if the illegal doesn't want to pay the fees he can just go back to his country and apply for citizenship and not pay any penalities. There is no difference. Most are not going to pay anything anyway so the issue is still the same.

    July 1, 2010 02:07 pm at 2:07 pm |
  21. NotBuyinIt

    Sorry but I'm not buying what they are selling. The answer isn't easy and there is no middle ground. Deport all of the law breakers and let them come back legally. This has been going on since the late 1960s so it is not just an Obama issue (but he could help solve it if he has the guts to).

    I do have sympathy for people and I know that a very high percentage are good people (but they did break the law to get here) but we can't afford them. We need to start providing healthcare and jobs to legal citizens first, then open up immigration.

    I'm not against immigrants, we just need to follow the laws.

    July 1, 2010 02:10 pm at 2:10 pm |
  22. thor

    Obama can't talk his way out of the fact that he is opposed to sealing our nation's borders and he doesn't care that more and more illegals are coming here. At some point they figure they will be granted amnesty so they want to get here now, just in case the borders are sealed in the future.Obama is playing politics with this issue as he accuses Congress of doing the same.He's looking to Latino vote in 2012 to help win reelection.

    July 1, 2010 02:11 pm at 2:11 pm |
  23. Muffet

    President Obama simply can't please EVERYONE. No matter what he does! For the exception of Roosevelt, this man inherited THE WORST economy in modern times. The gull of some in congress to accuse the unemployed of being "lazy". Where were you guys when oversight was needed on wall street, terrorist activities, oil companies, banks and education. I tell you who is lazy, elected billionaires who sit on their duff getting tax payors money to fall asleep at the damn wheel....that's what I define as LAZY and taking HANDOUTS! All of a sudden, republicans have the answer for the MESS they created. All we get is grandstanding campaign crap. THE NERVE!

    July 1, 2010 02:11 pm at 2:11 pm |
  24. Duck Fallas

    I enjoy a nice taco, and ice hockey is a great sport.

    July 1, 2010 02:13 pm at 2:13 pm |
  25. Matt

    Obama has never sought middle ground. The AZ law (which enforces the federal law) wasn't even a day old and he railed against it. Then democrats cheered when Mexico's president spoke against the law (even though Mexico's laws are far stricter). Later we find out that Holder hasn't even read the 10 page law.

    For Obama, middle ground means: cave into my wishes or be demonized.

    July 1, 2010 02:16 pm at 2:16 pm |
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